Harry Reid: the most prominent Mormon to back same-sex marriage

Following President Obama’s announcement that he now supports same sex marriage, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced his own support for same-sex marriage, thus becoming the most prominent Mormon to back equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

Reid’s position is somewhat nuanced. Though he supports same sex marriage as as a legal matter, he notes that his “personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman.” That “personal belief” is certainly a religious one, and it echoes the opinion of leaders of the LDS Church to which he belongs. In September 2008, just before the vote on California’s Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to ban same sex marriage, the LDS Church issued a public statement encouraging its members to support political efforts to prevent gays and lesbians from getting married. By supporting equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, Reid is expressing what appears to be a disagreement with his church leadership on matters of policy, while still agreeing with the church on matters of doctrine.

There was a significant political backlash against the LDS Church’s political effort to pass Proposition 8 in California. The effort led to bad press, and has contributed to at least some defections from the faith by LDS Church members. Since then, the church has been much less aggressive on the issue. The LDS Church is sensitive about avoiding the appearance of giving “orders” to Mormon political leaders. Therefore, it would be uncharacteristic for the church to issue any statement that might be interpreted as a rebuke of Reid. For that reason, I expect the LDS Church to remain silent on the issue for the time being.

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